A friend registered on a matrimonial website got a call from a man looking to get married. Their conversation went like this:
Man: What will you do if I get a promotional transfer to another city?
Woman: I think if one partner, be it the man or the woman, gets a better job opportunity in another place and the other partner can move without adversely affecting her/his career, the shift can work out.
Man: Suppose the domestic worker hired for the house doesn’t turn up one day. What will you do?
Woman: That’s ok. Both partners can get together and finish the housework.
The next day the man’s mother called my friend’s parents to not-so-regretfully convey that my friend was too modern and won’t “fit” into their family. The man’s family had sought a “modern yet traditional” woman. In matrimonial parlance, modernity is like red blood cells whose presence in the body is essential but their count should fall within a certain range for a person to be healthy. My friend, according to the wife/daughter-in-law seekers, had scored too high and, therefore, negatively, on the modernity barometer.
What are these traditional values which our modern women have been failing? To be kind and empathetic, caring and considerate, are not traditional values. They are (timeless) values a decent human being has or aspires to develop regardless of their gender.
But to expect the woman to do all the housework or to jeopardise her work-life to make way for the man’s is unjust, regressive, hypocritical and discriminatory. And therefore a lot of the over 70 million single women in India are choosing to reject such propositions. A neighbour had once suggested a match to me. While I wasn’t interested, I decided to humour her and continue the conversation. I said I hoped the man’s family knew there would be no dowry. “But your parents will give something, right?” She meant that the amount of money to be given as dowry would be negotiable. For her, it was tradition; for me, a crime, not only a legal but a moral one.
My friend’s father, who had been disappointed that the match didn’t work out, had raised his daughter to be an educated woman with a career. He had often given her examples of trailblazing women to take inspiration from, no matter what their marital status. Yet society’s spectre of marriage being an essential rite of passage loomed over him when he couldn’t “get” his adult, perfectly capable and independent daughter married. He had encouraged my friend to grow throughout her life and then, frustrated with the matrimonial scene, had advised her to shrink, which she could not do, and rightly so.
What needed to be cut to size were the unreal expectations of the man and his family, who had raised their son to believe that somewhere a woman was being brought up with the sole purpose of fitting into his life. If it weren’t so outrageous, it would be amusing to observe that these men manage to live in a bubble for the greater part of their lives. I have known of prospective grooms who assume that the woman would be more than happy to leave her job and join him for greener pastures (read cards). One guy was taken aback when his online match wanted to discuss with him the subject of children, for he had grown up thinking that all women have their maternal instinct handy, and would love to turn the tap on and spout forth cherubs at the first chance they can grab. Another character insisted that he can get the woman a job through his illustrious connections and networks, while she repeatedly asserted she was perfectly happy in her current employment. When it comes to appraising each other for matrimonial symmetry, such men’s being out of tune with the women of the world leave the former confused and gaping in wonder, and the latter pulling out their hair in exasperation.
Perhaps that’s why a report found that a “high percentage of men with higher-education degrees are looking at profiles of women less educated than them”. Such people would do well to know that my “modern” friend and women like her, who refuse to be gaslighted into believing that to want equality is to be selfish, are setting up a new tradition. Our hitherto cloistered dotcom men would urgently need to bring themselves up to speed.
First published in Deccan Herald, 16 Feb 2018.